Robert Sunseri, who spent most of his life working at his family's grocery, Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., and helped grow it into one of the Strip District's iconic retail destinations, died Sunday at Sunrise of Upper St. Clair.
The cause of death was heart failure, said his wife, Jean Marino Sunseri of Mt. Lebanon.
Mr. Sunseri, 80, grew up in Millvale and Oakland, and from the time he was a young boy helped out at the business on Penn Avenue that his father and uncles opened in 1902 after they immigrated to Pittsburgh from Sicily, Italy.
"He always knew he was being groomed to run Penn Mac with his brothers," said Mrs. Sunseri. "It was his life."
Following his graduation from Central Catholic High School, Mr. Sunseri entered the Army and was stationed in Germany. When he was discharged, he returned to his hometown and teamed with his late brother, Salvatore, to take over day-to-day management of the business.
What started at the turn of the century as a pasta-making shop evolved into a specialty foods emporium where shoppers flock for its wide selection of imported cheeses, olive oils, pastas, sauces, breads, produce, deli meat, olives, coffee, jams, and gourmet cooking utensils and kitchen gadgets.
It was typical for Mr. Sunseri to work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week to manage the store, said his wife.
"For more than 50 years, he and his brother, Sal, oversaw the whole thing," she said. "Billing, merchandising, order taking. He was a tireless businessman."
Mr. Sunseri could tell customers the price of thousands of items simply by looking at which case or lot they came from, his wife said. When the store closed for the day, he frequently brought home the sales slips to make sure the books were balanced, she said.
Besides his duties at Pennsylvania Macaroni, Mr. Sunseri during the 1980s owned a pizza shop in South Park and a Downtown tavern, the Silver Bullet.
Even when members of the third generation of the family assumed a more active role at Pennsylvania Macaroni, Mr. Sunseri never completely retired until about two years ago. By then, his eyesight had deteriorated so badly from macular degeneration that he could not drive to work anymore, his wife said.
Until he stopped working, he remained involved with the warehouse and wholesale operations, telephone billing, and by corresponding regularly with his longtime secretary, Kathy Feinstein, Mrs. Sunseri said.
The couple married 37 years ago after she met him during a shopping trip to Pennsylvania Macaroni.
"Ever since I was a little girl I had gone to Penn Mac to shop for Easter and Christmas, and when I saw him and found out he was single, I knew instantly. I called him and made the first move."
He had three children and she had two when they married. After grandchildren arrived, Mr. Sunseri became devoted to watching their sports activities, his wife said. He sponsored some of their football and baseball teams and helped to finance a scoreboard for a Little League field operated by the Mt. Lebanon Baseball Association, she said.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Robert Sunseri and Mark Giuntini; three daughters, Kimberly Berger, Heidi Bunn and Deborah Dattalo; one brother, Anthony Sunseri of Greenfield; and 13 grandchildren.
Friends will be received noon to 8 p.m. today at William Slater II Funeral Service, 1650 Greentree Road, Scott. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday in Our Lady of Grace Church, Kane Boulevard, Scott.
Memorial contributions may be made to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 960 Penn Ave., Suite 1000, Pittsburgh 15222; or to Golden Triangle Council-The Blind, 3253 Waltham Ave., Pittsburgh 15216.
Joyce Gannon: email@example.com or 412-263-1580. First Published October 15, 2013 8:00 PM